Jean-Michel Basquiat, half-Haitian, half-Puerto Rican, ran away from his Brooklyn home and became a street artist, specializing in graffiti but soon commanding the attention of Manhattan’s downtown art scene. As Phoebe Hoban’s subtitle suggests: Basquiat made a quick killing in art, and art made a quick killing of him. It is this nexus between art and the artist that is the driving force of this biography.
In both his art and in his life, Basquiat lived on the edge—taking large quantities of every kind of drug, seducing men and women, the famous (Madonna, Lauren Hutton), and the obscure. The jacket copy of BASQUIAT: A QUICK KILLING IN ART calls him the Jimi Hendrix of the art world, and for once the promotional wording is accurate. Basquiat is a wonderful study of how pop culture and elite art converges in a culture that revels in celebrity and big money. That Basquiat had real talent is unmistakable from Hoban’s evocations of his work, but she does not blink at his unevenness or his lack of discipline.
This is the first biography of an artist who will continue to fascinate those interested in the evolution of art from the street to the gallery. Basquiat himself joins the ranks of other enfantsterribles. His story has already been made into a film, BASQUIAT, directed by painter Julian Schnabel and starring Jeffrey Wright, Dennis Hopper, and David Bowie. And it is likely that there will be other biographies and dramatizations, since Basquiat provokes such complex questions about art and the marketing of the artist. Hoban, a feature writer for NEW YORK magazine and THE NEW YORK OBSERVER as well for VOGUE, VANITY FAIR, and GQ, writes with a good deal of experience and authority.